LOOK: ‘Snownado’ Appears Over Lake Erie During Historic Lake-Effect Storm

by Emily Morgan
Photo by: Jordan Van Loo

Tornados aren’t just for the great plains. Recently, bystanders in New York got a twisted surprise when they saw an extremely rare “snownado” over Lake Erie on Friday. The odd weather phenomenon comes as the Buffalo area of the state continues to be hammered with lake-effect snow in what some meteorologists call a record-setting winter storm. Bystanders saw the odd weather wonder, similar to a waterspout with frozen elements, just after 8:30 a.m. by storm chaser Simon Brewer. He believes it was about a mile off the coast of downtown Buffalo.

“Was close enough & clear enough can confirm it was a waterspout by definition,” he tweeted at the time, adding that he watched it spin from the Erie Basin marina.

The icy phenomena was just one of several odd weather events associated with Friday’s huge lake-effect snow system, including thunder and lightning during the winter storm.

“The spin-ups — technically brief waterspouts — are relatively common on the Great Lakes,” said Greg Diamond. He is a senior meteorologist at Fox Weather. “But it’s relatively uncommon to have happen during a lake-effect snow event.” He added: “You only see it during the most extreme events.”

Diamond’s also classified the storm a “historic event,” set to break the state’s record for snowfall in 24 hours.

The previous record was set one day in 1966 in New York’s Oneida County, in the town of Camden. On that day, the storm battered the area with 50 inches of snow in one day.

Winter storms claims two lives, officials cancel flights ahead of Thanksgiving holiday

The National Weather Service’s most recent estimate reveals that that record is already broken, with over 54 inches reported falling in Erie County. Diamond also said the storm will likely continue dropping snow on the region until early Sunday.

Officials have also put a hiatus on traffic along the New York State Thruway from Rochester to the Pennsylvania border. There’s also a driving ban for much of Erie County.

Sadly, the effects of the intense storm have also claimed the lives of two county residents. They died from cardiac complications due to shoveling and attempting to clear the grounds, according to County Executive Mark Poloncarz.

“We send our deepest sympathies and remind all that this snow is very heavy and dangerous,” Poloncarz said.

Areas northeast of Lake Ontario have also been inundated with heavy snow. As of Friday, the snowfall rate was up to three inches per hour, according to the weather service in Buffalo.

“Travel will be extremely difficult, if not nearly impossible … Visibility will be near zero at times with deep snow cover on roads,” the local weather service warned.

In addition, airline officials canceled dozens of flights arriving and departing from airports as storm conditions worsened.